Good language learners notice what is happening in a language. They notice the sounds, the structure and the vocabulary of the language. They notice as they listen and read. They notice when they use the language. How can we train ourselves in the ability to notice in order to become good language learners?
Language teaching methods too often try to force learners to notice based on explanations of grammar, drills, and other exercises and class activities. I find these approaches intrusive and stressful. I do not easily understand many of the explanations, find it difficult to remember rules and tables, and do not like to have to reproduce all of this in drills, tests, or "role-playing" or "task-based" exercises imposed in class.
I find it more enjoyable to learn by listening and reading and using the language when I feel like it. Here are some things that can help us notice while just doing what we like to do in the language we are learning.
1. Repetitive listening
Listen to content of interest more than once, especially when starting out in a language. When I start in a language I can listen to the same content ten or more times, since there are always bits and pieces that I just do not get, despite having read the text and looked up all the words. The effort to try to "get" these fuzzy parts keeps me focused and trying to notice. I gradually notice the fuzzy parts, and also reinforce the parts that I already understood. I notice more and more clearly, although much remains vague at times.
2. Fast and slow
Listen to content at normal speed, and then listen again to a slowed down pace. Either the content has been recorded twice, once at normal speed, and once slowly, or you can use Audacity or some similar audio management system to slow things down. You will notice much more when you listen the second time to the slower version.
3. Points of view listening
Find lessons in which similar content is related with a few key elements changed each time. This could be the tense, or the use of pronouns, or other structural aspects that cause trouble. Listening to similar content over and over will reinforce the elements you already are familiar with, while you focus on the specific elements that have changed.
4. Use the language
Using the language is a great way to notice. When you write or speak, even if you are not corrected, you tend to notice where your gaps and problems are. Of course, having your errors pointed out can also help you notice. This is helpful as long as we don't expect the corrections to actually correct us. They will only help us notice.
5. Mark up your books
I tend to mark up books and newspapers when reading. The action of underlining words, phrases, word endings, etc. helps me notice. I then go back and review the chapter that I just finished, going over what I have underlined.
With enough noticing, the brain will start to form new patterns for the language, and our performance and understanding will improve.
Try these things to improve your ability to notice, and your ability to learn languages.
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